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Choosing the collaborator path – why we work differently. By Graeme Leslie, Designtastic

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Playing to our strengths

Not all businesses are created equal, and neither are the business models which underpin them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating, running and building a business.

When Fiona and I launched Designtastic, we had a very clear vision for how we wanted to structure the business and approach projects. We both had experience of the traditional employee business structure, and while it works well for many organisations, we knew it wasn’t for us.

Fiona and I love what we do, and we wanted to play to our strengths, rather than spread our energies thinly across managerial roles that we were less enthusiastic about. That’s why the collaborator model works so well for us. It suits our talents and personalities, and ultimately secures the best results for our clients.

A word to the wise

It’s worth saying that the collaborator model is not necessarily the simplest route to take. For it to work well, you need to establish relationships based on mutual trust. Not something that happens overnight. Yes there’s always a ‘heart-in-mouth’ moment when we initially start working with a collaborator, but that’s generally assuaged because we work with new collaborators on an in-house project first before introducing them to clients. Overall, collaboration is a great exercise in learning to let go and avoiding the time / energy drain of micromanagement.

No matter how well you get on with your collaborators however, you can’t lose sight of the end goal of the project – completing the clients’ brief to their satisfaction. It may be that, despite not being a manager in the traditional sense, you do need to retain ownership of the project, and learn when to push your collaborators to get results.

Ultimately the key is working with people who share our ethos and commitment to clients – you know they will just get on with the job and deliver a great end result for our clients.

I think the wheels of any working relationship are oiled when the people involved get on well. I like working with people I can have a bit of banter with – it always helps if we can laugh when things are going well, or not so well!

What’s not to like?

Despite those caveats I’m still a huge fan of the collaborator model. Why? Lots of reasons! For one thing it allows me to let go of micro-managing. I don’t particularly enjoy managing a team directly – I much prefer to be in charge of my own workload, and co-ordinate with other professionals whom I can trust to get the job done. That way I’m not tempted to look over their shoulders constantly!

Collaboration promotes honesty! We don’t pretend that we’re experts in everything, and we certainly don’t pretend that we do everything in-house. By working with professionals who are experts in their own fields, we can concentrate on our areas of expertise.

We get to pour our energies into being creative. After all, that’s why we set up our business in the first place – we’re passionate about conjuring up creative ideas and transforming these into valuable marketing collateral for our clients. The collaborator model frees us up to do just that.

As a small, two-man team, we’re so much more nimble and responsive. With less communication required within the company, we can disseminate information, make decisions and react much more quickly.

What’s more, the collaborator model gives us the opportunity to have open and honest conversations with other professionals to achieve the best result.

Last, but certainly not least, the collaborative model enables me to live the lifestyle I want. In a previous blog I described how redundancy took a toll on my mental health a number of years ago. Now I’m more aware than ever of the importance of sustaining a good work / life balance. I can honestly say that our business model helps me to do just that. It’s vital to find what works for you and then just keep doing it!

The road less travelled

So what’s the point of my ramble?! I guess it’s less about the collaborator model per se, and more about carving out your own path in the business world. You don’t need to do what’s expected, or what’s conventional. You’re much more likely to succeed if you assess what you’re good at, and use your past experiences to write the next chapter of your career. Finally, don’t forget what spurred you on to start your own business. What do you want to get out of it? What kind of life do you want to create for yourself? A sizeable proportion of your life is spent at work – make it the best experience you possibly can, even if you do have to chop down a few branches in the process!